With Week 12 on the horizon, there were two players I was interested in seeing most: Matt Leinart and Caleb Hanie. Both the Texans and the Bears are in the thick of a playoff hunt and lost their starting quarterbacks last weekend.
Leinart would be stepping in for Matt Schaub, but with the support of the top-ranked running game and a defense that is giving up the fewest total yards in all of the NFL. Similarly, Hanie would be replacing Jay Cutler with the support of a very talented running back and a physical defense, albeit ranked 25th in the NFL.
You may recognize Matt Leinert’s name from the 2006 NFL Draft in which he was selected with the 10th overall pick after his Heisman-winning college career with the USC Trojans. Leinart played for the Arizona Cardinals for four seasons (2006-2009) as a backup to Kurt Warner and was eventually released after being unable to beat out Derek Anderson following Warner’s retirement. He is now is his second contract with the Texans and Sunday was his first start of the year after a season-ending foot injury landed Matt Schaub on the IR.
Leinart started the game against the Jaguars by completing seven of eight passes, but only for a total of 33 yards. All of those seven completions were check-down routes in which his primary receiver was covered and he subsequently dumped it off to either a tight end or a running back checking out of the backfield. Arian Foster did him no favors with a fumble that was returned for an early touchdown to put them in a quick seven-point hole.
With the supporting cast in Houston, it was most likely by design that Leinart hadn’t taken a shot down the field until about midway through the second quarter. Gary Kubiak was probably in his ear all week telling him that he has to protect the ball, and unless his first read is wide open, then he better just take the easy completion and see if the ball carriers can make a play with their legs.
Prior to the 20-yard touchdown pass to Joel Dressen, he was probably told in his headset that he should take a shot with that play call. He took the snap, faked a handoff and bootlegged out of the pocket to his left, completing a drag pattern to Dressen for a touchdown that put them up 14-10. Leinart then led them to a field goal to put them up 17-10 in the second quarter, but shortly thereafter he was hit just after releasing a pass and landed awkwardly on his throwing shoulder.
All signs point to that being his last play of the 2011 season, as he will most likely be placed on IR with a broken collarbone, the exact same injury he had in 2007.
Enter rookie T.J. Yates, selected in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the 152nd pick overall. Coming out of North Carolina, Yates had just average arm strength and struggled to show consistent accuracy. While he did show incremental improvement season after season, he failed to prove that he could compete for a starting role in the NFL.
Every year, the NFL invites an additional two quarterbacks to the NFL combine just to be throwers for the wide receivers and tight ends as they go through their workouts. Yates was brought to Indianapolis as one of these workout quarterbacks, and oddly enough, he caught the attention of some NFL scouts. His performance in Indianapolis probably elevated his status from undrafted to a mid- to late-round selection.
Yates came in to Sunday’s game and actually drove the Texans down for a field goal just before halftime, and that would prove to be their last points of the day. The Texans did just sign Kellen Clemens and will most likely look to sign another veteran quarterback within the week.
At this point, I think it is Yates’ job to lose, but this will be a tough blow for the Texans to absorb. The Titans probably aren’t going to have enough time to catch them in the divisional race, so the Texans will still make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, but rather than being a Super Bowl contender, they now face the strong possibility of being eliminated in the first round.
Caleb Hanie has come in for Cutler in clean-up duty over the past couple of years, but still is very immature in his experience in the NFL. As you look at the game summary, he obviously had some struggles on Sunday with the three interceptions, but I will put some of that on the coaching staff. Why in the world would you ask Hanie to throw the ball 36 times, and in doing so, only give Matt Forte 12 carries? That is mind-boggling to me.
Hanie is totally responsible for the first pick he threw by rolling out of the pocket and lobbing a pass down the sideline into double coverage that was easily intercepted. I am not sure he wasn’t trying to throw that ball away, but nonetheless, it was an awful throw.
The final two interceptions can be justified … a little. His second interception was on a seam route up the middle to Matt Forte, and it was actually a decent read by Hanie. He was trying to find the window behind the underneath defender and just in front of the deep defender, but he overthrew it and was picked off by the safety. This is a throw that really good quarterbacks can make, but Hanie isn’t at that level.
The third interception was on a misdirection screen in which the coaching staff actually had Hanie completely turn his back to his receiver, rolling out in the opposite direction and then attempting a throw back screen.
This is a play that probably worked 10 out of 10 times in practice leading up to the game, but it is hard to simulate exactly what the opposing defense will do in the real game. Aaron Curry wasn’t confused by the sprint action to the other side of the field and sat on the backside receiver in man coverage. As soon as Hanie turned and lobbed the ball back across the field, he broke on it faster than the Bears player and should have picked it off himself. Instead it bounced off his hands and right into Kamerion Wimbley’s arms to be returned 73 yards.
I would have preferred to see the Bears get Hanie outside the pocket and use his legs as a weapon. While he isn’t the runner that Cam Newton and Tim Tebow are, he has the ability to move the chains with his feet. He actually finished the game with 50 yards rushing, but on only five attempts. He should have had at least double that, and Matt Forte should have touched the ball 25 or more times throughout the game. And when both of them were tired, turn around and give it to Marion Barber.
With the Raiders only converting red-zone appearances into field-goal points, the Bears were never behind far enough to be forced into throwing the ball. Their biggest deficit was 11 points, and that is only two possessions.
The Bears weren’t at their best when Cutler had to throw it more than 30 times, let alone Caleb Hanie.